I find it ironic that familiarity often leads to complacency. This is true in relationships, in our work, and even in our spiritual journey. When we are familiar with something we often lose the energy, mystery, meaning, and excitement of it. Through familiarity we can easily become numb to our homes, where we live, our friendships, jobs, and even our faith. Familiarity thus becomes one of the most subtle and pervasive forms of human alienation…..alienation from our family, friends, ourselves, our vocations, the world, and God.
German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hagel said, “Generally, the familiar, precisely because it is familiar, is not known.” It is a powerful truth that familiarity masks the unknown by keeping us focused exclusively on the external surface image. Regretfully, for most of us the people nearest to us and our immediate surroundings have become so familiar that they no longer invite or surprise us. The routine of the familiar offers us no new challenges, opportunities, or nourishment.
Gabriel Marquez, when asked by writer P.A. Mendoza about his thirty year relationship with his wife said, “I know her so well now that I have not the slightest idea who she really is.” For Marquez, behind the façade of the familiar there is an invitation to explore mystery, adventure, and the unknown. With the eyes to see and the willingness to plumb the depths of our relationships and experiences we find that behind the familiar there is still much of interest yet to discover. A simple parable, most often attributed to Russell Conwell, a Baptist minister and the first president of Temple University, illustrates this truth.
The Acres of Diamonds Parable
Acres of Diamonds is a fictional parable Conwell heard while traveling through present day Iraq in 1870, and is the story of a wealthy and contented Persian farmer named Ali Hafed. One day a travelling priest stopped by Ali Hafed’s farm and told him all about diamonds, what they looked like, what they were worth, and where they might be found. Ali Hafed soon became consumed with thinking about diamonds, discontented to the point that he sold all he had and left his family to search the world for diamonds.
In the end he found no diamonds. Penniless, exhausted, and broken Ali Hafed cast himself into the sea. Years later, the man who had purchased Ali Hafed’s farm found a sparkling stone in a stream cutting through his land. It was a diamond. This, according to the parable, was the discovery of the famous Golconda Mine that produced the crown jewels of England and Russia.
The point of the parable is that if Ali Hafed had stayed at home and mined the unfamiliar depths of his own farm, he would have found “acres of diamonds” instead of poverty, starvation, and death by suicide.
An Antidote To The Curse Of Familiarity
Businesses, companies, and churches often engage an outside consultant to come in and look at their organization with “fresh” eyes. Wise leaders know that the familiar can blind organizations to internal and external reality. The same is true for individuals. We often find it difficult to discover something new and interesting in our lives numbed by the familiar. An antidote to this eventuality is to consider yourself for a while to be a stranger to your family, job, surroundings, and your own inner soul. To view yourself as an outsider, a complete stranger, or a new comer to your life can be a very enlightening exercise. Becoming a temporary guest to your own life allows you to gradually discover the mystery and magic of yourself, others, and your surroundings. Meditating on this perspective can release the stranglehold familiarity has on your life and awaken you to all the possibilities and blessings of your inner and outer world you have become blind to.
Posted on June 30, 2020